How do you explain mental illness to an eight-year-old? To say things like “some people are ‘different’…” (or ‘simple’, or ‘not able to cope with things’, or ‘a bit slow’, or ‘don’t react to things as well as they should’) is condescending to both the child and the person with the mental illness. It is especially difficult when the person is someone we know and like and respect.
In attempting to explain a certain mental illness to my daughter while driving I struggled to find phrases she would understand which do not dishonour the person we were talking about. It was a valid question about specific behaviour that confused a child and warranted an honest answer, one which I could not adequately provide. Oddly enough I think having a moderate knowledge of neurobiology myself actually made my explanation even more confusing because I am used to the terms I wanted to use being pre-loaded with meaning which actually requires a lot of other knowledge to understand.
Then there is the idea of ‘normal behaviour’. According to my spell checker I cannot even spell part of that phrase correctly by a certain standard. After spending a long time around Christian folks I have found that it is not always those up the front preaching who have the deepest insight into the plain teachings of Christ, often those who behave in ways that most ‘nice’ Christians frown upon have been battling relentlessly with the exact same sins that others of us long ago justified in our own hearts as not being sins because we express the behavioural side of those internal attitudes in a much milder form. We have all been given a slightly different physiological makeup and this can profoundly amplify or inhibit the expression of internal heart processes (or attitudes). For example; one person may be pleasantly cheerful and calm, a delight to interact with, another with similar IQ and education is grouchy, gloomy and tense. There can be biological reasons for both of these mood types which the individuals have little control over. Of course, there can also be environmental reasons for a person to be cheerful or tense, these too can be outside of our control.
I don’t consider biological predisposition or environmental factors to be an excuse for sin, but in considering how I label people I need to look into my own heart and identify where I am failing to battle sin rather than feeling smug because I can see how much battling someone else has ahead of them yet.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
I think the context also helps here, take a look at Luke 6:43-45, it is the state of the heart out of which the fruit comes that God is interested in.